'Breaking the Glass Ceiling' Award Encourages Women in Engineering

By: Judith Lau, Cannon Staff Writer

It was only in 1884 that women were allowed to attend the University of Toronto. Now, there are more full-time female undergraduates and graduates enrolled than males (56.9% and 53.8% respectively). In Engineering, the percentage of women has generally been growing and is now 26% at the undergraduate level.

The percentage of women in academia is another story. Only 14.3%* of the teaching staff in engineering is female. At the tenured full professor level, this percentage drops to a very low 4.5%. This means that students do not see a diversity of teachers in their classes, even while diversity has been shown in
organizations to be beneficial.

Dean Amon recognizes the importance of diversity, which is crucial in making the Faculty more attractive. It is also important to increase women faculty to provide role models for students, that minority groups, including women, can excel in anything, including academia.

So the Faculty of Engineering has begun to welcome more women faculty than ever before. The 14.3%* mentioned previously has increased from 9.8% three years ago, and further up in the pipeline – at the assistant professor level – the percentage of women is now 34%*. For the first time, a women professor has been appointed as the First Year Chair (Professor McCahan), Civil Engineering Chair (Professor McCabe) and Dean (Professor Amon).

It is not easy to be a professor as it is a juggle of keeping on the leading edge of research, managing a research group, applying for grants, teaching several classes and completing other administrative duties. Many professors lead working groups and clubs of faculty and/or students. Then there is balancing all this work with life – like family and friends. This is more challenging for women professors because of stronger life-side pressures, and certainly there seems to be a Glass Ceiling.

Every year, U of T's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) chapter celebrates women professors’ amazing accomplishments by the Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award. The award honours women professor who has made a continuing contribution to student education as an outstanding mentor, lecturer or leading researcher.

Do you know a women professor who has made remarkable achievements despite the challenges facing women in the workforce? An individual who, through her impact on her field of research and on the community, has inspired you and others to aim higher? If you do know, let WISE know at by March 15 by answering the following questions:

1. Professor's name, current position and department
2. Describe your association with professor (i.e. mentor, instructor, advisor)
3. Why you think this professor deserves the award. Please provide examples of her accomplishments, challenges she may have faced, and how she has
inspired you.

The winner will be announced in late March and honoured at an award event in early April. Stay in tune, because these winners are not only accomplished women, but accomplished people who strive for excellence in leadership and research, and whose accomplishments show us that anything is possible.

2008 Winner: Dr. Zhong-Ping Feng, Faculty of Medicine
Dr. Feng is a professor at the Department of Physiology and was the very first organizer of BRAIN (Brain Research and Integrated Neurophysiology) Platform, which brings physiology neuroscience researchers together during the annual BRAIN poster day. She also leads the department’s journal club meetings, where students and professors discuss novel and innovative ideas in neuroscience. She has done this all while being a new immigrant to Canada and not being familiar with the English language. Her busy schedule of working full-time as a teacher and researcher, taking English classes in the evenings, and taking care of her two young children demonstrates that great challenges are possible to overcome.

2007 Winner: Dr. Brenda J. Andrews, Faculty of Medicine
Dr. Andrews is the Director of the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, as well as professor at the Department of Medical Genetics and Microbiology and Graduate Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics. She is a strong student advocate and helped with graduate student-related issues, including raising the base stipend to match any tuition increase and having graduate student presence at faculty meetings. She also initiated the now-annual Medical Genetics "Recruitment Day", a one-day event for prospective graduate students who have received early admission.

2005 Winner: Dr. Yu-Ling Cheng, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering
Dr. Cheng is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. Her research involves drug delivery, focusing on the development of novel materials for drug delivery and other biomedical applications and the understanding of diffusion and mass transfer in polymeric systems. She has contributed to the education mission of the University of Toronto in many ways. She taught courses in physical chemistry, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat and mass transfer, biotransport, vector calculus, polymer chemistry, and mass transfer in polymers. Her Engineering Thermodynamics course was described by one former student as “the stuff of legend.” She played a key role in the design of the Biomedical Option in Engineering Science in 1995, and later served as Option Chair. In her role as Chair of the Division of Engineering Science (2000-2005), her dedication to her students was described as inspiring "loyalty and respect" as well as "affection and admiration". She also successfully oversaw significant enrolment expansion, led the development of an ambitious academic plan, and spearheaded a renewal of the curriculum.

* Note: This article was published in the Cannon. Please note current stats are as follows:

  • 15.1% of teaching staff in Engineering is female
  • 32.5% of assistant professors in Engineering are female


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